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West Central Florida Forecast

West Central Florida Forecast
West Central Florida Forecast

Capt. Ray Markham covers the fishing forecast from Aripeka to Longboat Key, including Hudson, Anclote Key, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Bradenton

October 15 - 17

Time marches on toward shorter days and cooler weather. Our recent 90-degree afternoons may not have you thinking about fall or winter, but the fish see the coming changes and are responding to them.


gag grouper fishing
Gag grouper like this one, caught onboard a party boat out of Hubbard's Marina, will be more plentiful in shallower waters over the next couple of months.

Nearly every day I’m seeing or hearing about some changes. The arrival of Spanish mackerel in greater numbers began a few weeks ago, and their larger cousins, the king mackerel, are also trickling in. Look for the next “cold” front to bring even more fish to the Suncoast. Both of these fish prefer ultra-clean water, so if nearshore waters are murky, move offshore until you reach a clean water line, look for bait schools, and watch for signs of diving birds.

I look to the north for subtle changes that will happen here in the near future. Hearing about gag grouper being caught in 7-feet of water on rocks out of the Homosassa River makes me think that gags that are well offshore beyond the 100-foot mark are also slowly moving closer to shore. They most certainly will not stage up in 7-feet of water here, but it’s all relative. Where depths of water up there change about a foot a mile, we see 7 feet of water right off the beaches near the swim buoys. We might be looking at 30-miles for 100-feet off Pinellas. 

Water temperature as well as the amount of daylight each day can trigger this migration, so changes like these are what to look for. Some prime water temperatures run in the 70’s, which are a happy place for most species that inhabit our waters. 

Increasing catches of hogfish in depths ranging from 40-to 80-feet are being reported. Most anglers have been catching them on live shrimp. Hogs are observers. Where they may hold on structure along with other fish, anglers dropping baits to the bottom will wait in anticipation of catching them. But in reality, these fish may be somewhat shy and are not the first to bite. They let the others, like grunts, snappers, and porgies chew. When they are nearly done, hogs will move in. So, if you’re catching other fish, don’t leave right away thinking that there are no hogfish where you are.

Lane snapper will close at the end of the day’s fishing on October 17th. Mangrove snapper continue to chew, but those days are numbered. Look for the bite on mangos to slow as cold fronts move in. 


gag grouper fishing
Dave King caught this tripletail on a fly in Sarasota Bay while fishing with Capt. Rick Grassett our of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key.

Fish on the inshore scene are preparing for the winter ahead. Hunters who own dogs can tell what kind of winter is ahead when they see their dog’s fur coats getting thicker. It’s a natural phenomenon. That’s why shedding of fur during warm weather occurs. I believe fish sense the coming changes as well by feeding more heavily. I see it just prior to cold fronts moving in or the approach of thunderstorms. It’s just two different scenarios. One is a temporary change where thunderstorms quickly pass perhaps in a matter of a few hours creating turbid water. Cold fronts will pass which may stir the water up for several days and drop the air and water temperatures. 

Snook are migrating away from the beaches and passes, opting for mouths of creeks and rivers. Whitebait and pinfish have a lot of protein and these fish will feed heavily on them. As waters cool, baitfish leave the flats for deeper waters, leaving crustaceans like shrimp and crabs behind. Snook and many other fish will feed on them during the winter. Redfish will rarely turn down a crustacean, but a school of pilchards or pinfish are nearly always in their diets.

Tripletail numbers quadrupled over the past week. The addition of thousands of baited stone crab traps into nearshore waters over the past week has created a massive chum line that attracts these fish. Wilson Keene of Bradenton reported catching huge numbers of tripletail this past week on live shrimp, jigs, and artificial shrimp along the beaches and channel markers. Tampa Bay is showing greater numbers as are other areas up and down the coast. Stone crab season opens this Friday, October 15. 

Snook, redfish, and spotted seatrout opened to harvest in Tampa Bay on October 12. This change includes all waters in Manatee County north of State Road 64, as well as Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The Braden River and all tributaries of the Manatee River are also included. This area was temporarily made catch-and-release for these three species in July due to recent impacts from red tide. Temporary measures for snook, redfish, and spotted seatrout south of State Road 64 in Manatee County (including Palma Sola Bay) through Gordon Pass in Collier County remain in effect.

With the reopening of these fish, it’s a good time to get on the water and see what the closure has done to preserve our fishery. While these fish are reopening to taking them, please consider not always taking your limit, but limit your take.


Capt. Angie Douthit of reported that bass and crappie are moving into the shallows of Lake Okeechobee in south Florida. The conditions of the lake are good, according to Douthit who specializes in both live and artificial baits for bass and crappie. The season ahead should be a good one, and now is a good time to book your trip with Capt. Angie. For reservations, she can be reached at 863-228-7263.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham
(941)228-3474 or (941)723-2655

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